DATELINE 1906 – Pop Warner Identifies the “Bastard” of Football

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Brian Meehl is the author of Blowback ’07 (MCP Books, November 1, 2016) and this article is the fourth in a new series discussing the radical changes in football from the 1905 to 1907. 


The tale is as wobbly as a bad spiral. Actually, the first passes weren’t spirals. They were lobbed like basketballs and thrown end-over-end.

One “first” forward pass was a ref’s blunder. In 1895, as North Carolina played Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels’ punter, about to be blocked, lobbed the ball forward to George Stephens, who ran for a 70-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs’ coach, Pop Warner, protested the illegal pass, but the ref had failed to see it. The TD won the game!

In a 1905 game between Washburn U. and Fairmont College, the forward pass was allowed as an “experiment.” The first “legal” forward pass was tossed and completed.

Time out for the origin of the spiral pass. In 1902, Hawley Pierce, playing for the semipro Philadelphia Athletics, taught teammate Howard Reiter to toss an underhand spiral. Reiter’s arms being short, it was clumsy, so he threw it overhand. The overhand spiral was born four years before it was legal.

Finally, in 1906, St. Louis U.’s, Bradbury Robinson threw what most consider the first forward pass on September 5 against Carroll College. His first throw was incomplete and penalized by a turnover. The next throw found Jack Schneider for a 20-yard touchdown. The “long pass” had taken flight.

However, in its rookie season, the forward pass was ridiculed and called the “bastard” of football by…wait for it…Pop Warner.

Next: In 1907, Pop Warner grooms the “bastard” into the “air attack.”

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Brian Meehl HeadshotBlowback 07 BookcoverBrian Meehl has published four novels with Random House: Out of Patience, Suck It Up, Suck It Up and Die,and You Don’t Know About Me. His books have garnered a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Blue Ribbon from the Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books and starred reviews in Publishers Weekly. In a former incarnation, Meehl was a puppeteer on “Sesame Street” and in Jim Henson films, including “The Dark Crystal.” His transition from puppets to pen included writing for television shows such as “The Magic School Bus” and “Between the Lions,” for which he won three Emmys. Meehl lives in Connecticut and is writing Blowback ’63 and Blowback ’94. For more information about this author and his exciting books, please visit and/or

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